One of the most difficult challenges in B2B sales is building consensus. When you accepted your job in B2B sales, the job description didn't mention you would need to lead your prospect and their team through this most difficult outcome. For B2B salespeople, the lack of consensus crushes average close rates.
Most sales organizations lack training for building consensus, and few have a sales enablement strategy that provides any real guidance. Despite this, building consensus is emerging as a key step in the sales process.
Building consensus will require you to identify the client’s politics, negotiate between parties, manage change, and occasionally be something akin to a couples therapist. To build consensus, you will need to lead your prospect through this process, and there are a number of tactics that can help.
Consensus-Building Tactic 1: Introduce the Process Early
If you continually experience a challenge, the best approach is to deal with it before it happens. There is every reason to introduce the need to build consensus early in your B2B sales process. By suggesting that your contact, or better still, your sales champion, will need the support of their team, you are not only facilitating the buyer's journey but you are also leading your prospect.
It is a sales mistake to wait to address this issue. The longer you wait to start this process, the more the stakeholders are left out of the sales conversation, which becomes a problem once you begin working toward consensus. The larger the B2B customer's company, the greater the politics and the more time it takes to get everyone on the same page. Closing deals is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it’s impossible if you start this process in the last phases of the sales conversations.
When you engage in this conversation, ask if they need a unanimous decision or if the majority is enough to move forward.
Consensus-Building Tactic 2: Acquire Stakeholders
In Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, you will find a chapter on consensus. That chapter starts with a look at building consensus on two planes: vertical and horizontal. There was a time when you only needed agreement from the stakeholders in the department buying your product or service. For example, if you called on the operations department, you'd need consensus from that group. This is vertical consensus. Over time, other departments were invited to participate in the pool of stakeholders who weigh in on the decision. Horizontal consensus covers all the other departments who will participate in the decision to change and who they choose as a provider.
You may have to help your contact know who needs to be part of this process, including the executive who will later need to fund the purchase, sign the contract, and greenlight the initiative. At the same time, you need to ask who will weigh in on the decision and when to invite them to join the conversation.
Consensus-Building Tactic 3: Engage the Stakeholders in Order
There are two sales approaches under this tactic. The first is to identify and build consensus with the friendlies. These are the stakeholders who want to change and already support the initiative. By building consensus with this group, you deprive the opposition an opportunity to derail the initiative early. Know that you will not prevent opposing forces from being included, but you make it more difficult if there is already a groundswell of support.
The second approach to engaging stakeholders in order only works if you already have the support of an executive who has decided to fund and champion the initiative. If the deal is essentially done, you can confidently invite the opponents to join the sales conversation, knowing it is a fait accompli.
The longer it takes for you to start this process, the longer your sales cycle.
Consensus-Building Tactic 4: Logrolling and Favors
Your first obligation is to understand why certain people oppose the initiative, even though their company is your ideal customer. Understanding the opposition’s perspective allows you to mitigate the problems, challenges, or pain points it creates for them. One reason companies seek consensus is because they need to make whatever you sell work for the enterprise as a whole. They hope you can adjust.
Your sales champion may need to do some logrolling, supporting another department's initiative, or ask for a favor, knowing they are committing to return it at some point in the future.
Your Responsibility to Lead Your Prospect
Your contacts know they need consensus, but they don't always know how to create it. You are engaged in B2B selling every day, while your client buys every five or seven years. This means that your experience likely exceeds your client’s when it comes to building consensus. You are responsible for providing good counsel, advice, and recommendations. Your sales strategy means you must lead the client to win their business.
B2B sales teams need a set of practical and effective methods that improve their ability to have sales conversations that lead to consensus. These tactics should shorten your B2B sales cycle.
Building consensus in B2B sales requires effective communication and trust building. By listening to your prospect's needs, understanding their business objectives, and addressing any concerns, you can create an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation. Ultimately, leading your prospect through the B2B sales process with integrity and respect will help you build a strong foundation of trust that will result in a successful outcome for all parties involved.
- Establish a relationship: Establishing a relationship with your prospect is key to building consensus. Take the time to get to know them, learn about their needs and goals, and assure them that you understand their concerns.
- Create a common vision: Work with your prospect to create a shared vision of the desired outcome of the sale. Identify shared goals and objectives, discuss potential solutions for meeting those goals, and create an actionable plan for achieving success.
- Create buy-in: Once you have established trust and created a common vision, create buy-in from all stakeholders involved in the sale. Communicate why this sale is beneficial for everyone involved and encourage collaboration throughout the process.